Bandia and Fathala, both in Senegal, and both run by the same company are considered to be the best game parks in West Africa.
Bandia Game Park
There’s a new motorway for part of this way from Dakar, (as well as a new airport), constructed since my last visit, which is welcome as long as it lasts. This is the road to Mali and it’s very congested with trucks when it’s reduced again to single carriageway. Goats marauding on the verges make unexpected excursions onto the tarmac. Even on the autoroute the lack of awareness of other drivers still makes me want to shut my eyes (again). Driver, Naji says he wants to shut his too.
The countryside is mainly flat savannah, dotted with trees. The villages are made up of square breeze block (often called Chinese brick in Africa) houses with layered grass thatched roofs. The ground nut harvest is finished, and the millet is being brought in now.
The early start has given the option of an additional stop at Bandia. Mountaga urges me to shell out for a safari truck and he and Naji then get in free, as my guides. Most of the wildlife has been imported from South Africa, but it’s fun to view from the open top vehicle and photograph the eland (Derby and Cape), horse antelope, giraffe, zebra, impala, buffalo, ostrich and monkeys, all performing around the picturesque giant baobabs, as required. There are some babies to oooh over and even a pair of rhino. The hyena and crocodile sightings are definitely cheating though, as they are housed in pens.
Fathala Game Park
Continuing south east the journey follows causeways over lengthy fingers of saltwater estuaries, much like those in the north. This is the huge Sine-Saloum Delta which extends 45 miles along the coastline and 22 miles inland. (Not long after I last visited -in 2011- the delta was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m sure there was no connection.) There are brackish channels linking over 200 islets, lots of mangrove forest and a vast expanse of dry forest.
The dry brown rolling hills are typical of the Sahel and there are assorted traditional villages, circular huts with mud walls lining the roads. We stop at one of the more traditional Mandingo villages the houses having mud walls, where I reprise my Pied Piper act. The children follow me around posing for pictures and an old man called Ibrahim kindly invites us into his house to look round. It’s dark when we finally arrive at Fathala. The carts don’t have any illumination at all and none of the cars and trucks dip their headlights. I’m shutting my eyes again.
My tent can only be described as posh. There’s even a stand-alone bathtub with super steaming hot water. I wake to the gibbering of vervet monkeys in the tree opposite. Streams of tiny babies literally bomb down from the branches and bob swiftly away. They are followed by a herd of derby eland, making more stately progress left to right.
My game drive here isn’t incident filled, but we stop for hot drinks in a clearing inhabited by a male rhinoceros, who’s much too interested in our vehicle for my liking, some zebra and a couple of warthogs doing a Pumbaa impersonation. My guide says that the male accidentally killed the female with his horn when attempting to mate. He’s now lonesome and no-one is keen to let him try again. It’s no incentive to go any closer. And I’m feeling risk averse. I’ve already turned down an offer of a walk with the lions today. There are seven in a separate enclosure, but only two are up for close interaction. It felt too much like going into a lion’s cage to me. Maybe I’m a wimp, but I’ve read Albert and the Lion too many times. I’m happy to view them from safari cars. Though that’s not allowed in this case. (No lion pictures then.)
It’s a sad day as we now bid farewell to Naji, who delivers us over the Gambia border, to the banks of the River Gambia. He now faces a drive back to Morocco of 6 -7 days. He’s one of the best driver/guides I ever had. It feels like the end of an era.